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6 Ways to encourage active listening in children


Evgeny Atamanenko | Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 02/15/24

Here's how you can develop this crucial life skill that should be fostered from a young age.

As parents and caregivers, fostering active listening skills in children is essential for their social, emotional, and academic development. Active listening not only helps children communicate effectively, but also builds empathy and understanding in their interactions with others.

It’s a skill that sadly isn’t emphasized enough in today’s culture where so many people are quick to express opinions, without listening to what’s actually going on.

To ensure your children get into the habit of listening from an early age, here are six playful ways, drawing from Catholic teachings of compassion and attentiveness, to encourage them to become great listeners.

Storytelling sessions

Organize family storytelling sessions where each member takes turns sharing a story. Encourage children to listen attentively to each narrative, asking questions and discussing the plot afterward. Emphasize the importance of respecting the storyteller by giving them undivided attention, just as Jesus listened to the stories of those he encountered.

Listening walks

Take children on “listening walks” outdoors, encouraging them to pay attention to the sounds around them. As they stroll through nature, prompt them to identify different noises such as birds chirping, leaves rustling, or distant traffic. Encourage them to close their eyes and focus solely on listening, promoting mindfulness and attentiveness to the world around them, much like Jesus did during his moments of prayer and reflection in nature.

Scripture scavenger hunts

Create a scavenger hunt using passages from the Bible. Hide small snippets of scripture around the house or yard and challenge children to find and read them aloud. Afterwards, engage in a discussion about what each passage means and how it relates to their lives. Encourage active listening by asking children to reflect on the messages conveyed in the scriptures, fostering a deeper understanding of God’s word.

Mirror listening

Engage children in a fun game of “mirror listening” where they take turns mirroring each other’s words and emotions. One child speaks while the other listens attentively, then they switch roles. Encourage them to reflect not only the words spoken but also the feelings behind them, fostering empathy and understanding in their interactions with others, as exemplified by Jesus’ compassionate listening to those he encountered.

Prayer partners

Pair children up as prayer partners and encourage them to share their thoughts, feelings, and intentions with each other through prayer. Teach them to listen actively to their partner’s prayers, responding with affirmations or additional prayers for their intentions. This practice not only strengthens their relationship with God but also nurtures their ability to listen attentively and supportively to others, reflecting once more the loving and compassionate nature of Jesus.

Family listening circles

Set aside time for regular family listening circles where everyone has the opportunity to speak uninterrupted while others listen respectfully. Use a talking stick or another object to signify whose turn it is to speak, fostering a sense of order and respect in the conversation.

Encourage children to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, while emphasizing the importance of active listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and asking thoughtful questions. By creating a safe and supportive space for open communication, children learn to listen attentively and empathetically, strengthening their relationships with each other and with God.

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